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PLN Sues Massachusetts DOC Over Book Ban, Added to Approved List One Week Later

For the past five years Prison Legal News has been unable to sell or distribute books to prisoners in Massachusetts because PLN was not on the Dept. of Correction’s (DOC) approved vendor list. Massachusetts prisoners can only order books from a limited number of pre-approved sources.

DOC officials failed to remedy this situation despite repeated requests, instead offering pretextual excuses and failing to note that PLN sells several books that are unavailable from any other source. Further, the DOC had no standardized policy or guidelines for approving new vendors.
After several attempts to resolve this problem without litigation, PLN filed suit against DOC Commissioner Harold Clarke on April 23, 2008, seeking injunctive relief as well as damages.

“Commissioner Clarke claims that improving prisoners’ literacy is a priority in his administration, but banning books from Prison Legal News is designed to maintain an illiterate and uninformed prisoner population,” noted PLN editor Paul Wright.

One week after the lawsuit was filed, on April 30, Clarke agreed to add PLN to the DOC’s list of approved vendors.Counsel for the DOC assumed that PLN would “voluntarily dismiss this action” after obtaining approved vendor status; however, the lawsuit continues. PLN is seeking damages for five years’ worth of lost book sales due to Massachusetts prison officials’ intransigence and failure to respect PLN’s First Amendment and due process rights, plus attorney fees and costs.

PLN is ably represented by Howard Friedman and David Milton of the Law Office of Howard Friedman, P.C. in Boston. See: Prison Legal News v. Clarke, U.S.D.C. (D.Mass.), Case No. 1:08-cv-10677-RGS.

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